Whatever familiarity Barangay Ginebra has in beating Meralco two times in the Finals of the PBA Governors’ Cup in the past will certainly not apply on Sunday when the two sides dispute third place in the PBA Governors’ Cup eliminations at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao.
Coach Tim Cone, who has seen everything and done a lot in a long, decorated coaching career, is the first to admit this.
“This version of Meralco is the best we’ve seen in the last three years,” he told the Inquirer in a text message. “We need to be at our best to have a chance to beat them.”
Cone isn’t exaggerating.
The Bolts have been sharp this conference and are enjoying sustained brilliance with longtime import Allen Durham and a resurgent Baser Amer leading them to a 5-2 record, tied for third with the Kings.
Tip-off is at 6:45 p.m.
Meralco’s latest tweak in its roster has gotten Cone worried, for after all, this is now far from the team that the Kings turned back in two straight Finals of this tournament starting in 2016.
“They’ve added some important pieces that have taken them to another level,” he said, referring to the acquisition of Allein Maliksi and Raymar Jose, whom Meralco coach Norman Black regards as cogs essential to harnessing Durham’s full potential.
And then there’s Raymond Almazan, a center the Bolts acquired prior to the last conference who takes a lot of the chores in the middle off the shoulders of Durham.
The match should give a preview of an interesting playoff duel—if not draw memories of those previous two Finals meetings.
Justin Brownlee, who has been magnificent the entire conference, will again lead a Ginebra side that has an all-star local roster.
Meanwhile, NorthPort (3-4) is also hoping to boost its chances for the next phase when it battles Alaska (2-6) in the 4:30 p.m. tussle.
The Batang Pier will be missing the services of star rookie Robert Bolick, who is set to be shelved for the next six months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Pido Jarencio’s crew remains potent, though, with import Michael Qualls and champion sophomore Christian Standhardinger leading the Batang Pier.
NorthPort will be coming into the contest fresh from a 127-119 upset of Triple Crown-seeking San Miguel Beer.